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Macau follows in Hong Kong's footsteps on electoral reform

Publication Date : 01-08-2014


A civil referendum on electoral reform is brewing in another special administrative region (SAR) of China, Macau, following Hong Kong’s unofficial poll in June.

Three activist groups, Macau Conscience, Macau Youth Dynamics and Open Macau Society, have formed an “Electoral Affairs Commission on the Civil Refe?rendum 2014 on the Chief Executive Election” in conjunction with Macau’s fourth chief executive election on Aug 31.

Scheduled to be held from Aug 24 to 31, the referendum asks respondents if they support universal suffrage for the Macanese chief executive election in 2019, and whether they have confidence in the sole candidate for the 2014 chief executive election, who is incumbent Fernando Chui.

No other candidates have announced their intention to run for the election.

Should there be a contender for the city’s top post, the referendum would then ask the citizens which candidate they prefer.

Macau, the former Portuguese colony about an hour’s ferry ride from Hong Kong, was returned to China on Dec 20, 1999.

Dubbed the Monte Carlo of the Orient, it is well known for its gambling tourism.

In a process similar to Hong Kong, its top leader is elected every five years by an election committee of 400.

The committee, which is made up of representatives from various sectors in Macau, also nominates the candidates for the chief executive election.

In explaining the need for the civil referendum, the referendum commission noted that the United Nations has proposed a transition to a universal and equal suffrage in its concluding observations on Macau in 2013.

“‘Universal’ means that the right to vote should be open to the Macau general public.

“Everybody can take part in the election of their leader,” it said on its website.

“‘Equal’ means that the right of nomination should be opened to citizens as well, as to ensure each of us can enjoy the right to be elected, (as) guaranteed by the Covenant.” The Commission said the results of the civil referendum will have no legal effect, while its political impact varies depending on the turnout.

It called for the public to grab the chance to vote and experience the exercise of civil rights they deserve, adding that Macau residents above 16 years old are eligible to vote in the civil referendum.

The commission’s representative Jason Chao Teng Hei was quoted in the Macau Business Daily as saying that the commission hoped at least more than 400 people would vote in the referendum “so there will be more than those taking part in the official election”.

However, the Macau authorities have dismissed the civil referendum, saying that it has “no constitutional legal basis, does not have any legal basis, is illegal and invalid”.

In the statement, the SAR government has strongly opposed the actions initiated by “individual and small organisations” which attempted to “challenge the foundation of the rule of law in Macau”.

“The SAR government is determined and confident that the chief executive election will be held in a lawful manner, and will be held successfully,” the statement read.

Macau government spokesman Alexis Tam Chon Weng pointed out on July 12 that the civil referendum is against Macau Basic Law because universal suffrage is not provided for in the legal document.

“Macau is part of a nation with the sovereignty lying in the central government.

“The autonomy of Macau is authorised by the country,” he said.

He added that the development of Macau in the past 15 years was not achieved easily and the government’s attitude and stance on the civil referendum is to maintain the stability and peace in Macau.

“The government will continue to listen to public opinion, improve people’s livelihood and create a better living environment for the public,” he said.

However, Chao, who is also the president of Open Macau Society, argued that there are no laws that prevent Macau people from taking part or organising non-official voting activities.

“By no means the referendum may be described as ‘illegal’ because the results are not intended to be legally binding.

“Civil Referendum 2014 creates no legal effect but real political impact,” he said in a statement posted on the commission’s website.

The commission’s requests to have 10 assemblies to promote the civil referendum have been turned down by the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau, a decision which Chao described as an infringement of the citizens’ freedom of expression.


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